Danny Goldberg is copublisher of TIKKUN.
As someone who believes in God and prays every day, I am sickened by the way Democrats and Republicans use religion in politics. Instead of trying to create and implement programs that express the deep spiritual truth of human beings' interconnectedness, a truth that is inherent in all religions, the political class views religious language and symbolism as devices for constituency-building or social control or both. It is neither anti-religion nor unspiritual to vigorously oppose such distortions.
In an article for the American Prospect that contained much of the rationale for many aspects of the Gore-Lieberman campaign, Gore pollster and strategist Stan Greenberg wrote that following the Monica Lewinsky scandal, "Democrats were again identified with a 1960s-style irresponsibility. Voters want political leaders who put family at the center of political discussion and are drawn to candidates who respect the public's religious faith." Undoubtedly this theory heavily influenced Gore's selection of Joseph Lieberman, the most overtly religious candidate for national office since William Jennings Bryan.
Similarly, during the election Bush cited Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher, and appeared at an Iowa drug and alcohol addiction treatment center sitting in front of a huge picture of Jesus. At the inauguration there were numerous references to Jesus Christ and one of President Bush's first public actions after being inaugurated was to propose making it easier for religious organizations to receive tax dollars--a supposedly more constitutionally valid version of his Attorney General John Ashcroft's "charitable choice" proposal from 1996.
It is both a moral and a political mistake for Democrats to get sucked into Bush or Lieberman's seductive attempts to blend religion and politics.
The Bush/Ashcroft proposal for using tax dollars to fund religious groups' social service activity is dangerous. I have enormous admiration for the social service work of religious charities. My family visits and supports the St. Joseph's Church on our block because they have the best soup kitchen and homeless shelter in the neighborhood and the local priest, Father Tos, radiates spirituality, inclusiveness, and caring. Government funding of Catholic programs would not, however, go directly to spiritual beacons like Father Tos, but to governing institutions such as the New York Archdiocese whose hierarchy--including the current Cardinal Egan--has made attacks on artistic freedom, gay and lesbian rights, and women's right to an abortion a major part of its public mission.
Religions have the legal right to discriminate in hiring and may choose who they serve based on religious views. Federal funding of religious programs would have the effect of forcing all Americans to subsidize such discrimination. Moreover, the government, while not endorsing one particular religion, would be creating a cartel of those religions which have sophisticated lobbying efforts. Religions that are not part of the cartel, and the millions of Americans who are not affiliated with a religion, would be excluded from equal treatment.
Furthermore, the "winning" religions, the ones that did attract government funding, would be distracted from their core spiritual culture and orient themselves more and more toward pleasing the government, as several of TIKKUN's Religion in Politics panelists also argued (November/December 2000). Even Reverend Pat Robertson has opposed the Bush plan on this basis, although his alternative, allowing taxpayers to make donations to religions of their choice in lieu of paying taxes, poses even greater problems. We all would love to pay taxes only for those programs we support!
I believe that the vast majority of Americans believe in God, but I don't think that this is the same as believing in one specific religion or group of politically approved religions. …